Time for Pardons

By: - August 11, 2005 5:35 am

Winston-Salem Journal

Four North Carolina men who spent years in prison for crimes that they didn’t commit have waited too long for pardons from Gov. Mike Easley. He needs to either grant their requests for pardons or say why he won’t.

That’s because these four men, all of whom won new trials and then had their charges dismissed, had their lives ruined by what was, by all appearances, wrongful imprisonment. Pardons of innocence from the governor would give each of these men the right to apply for as much as $20,000 a year for each year they were imprisoned. It would also give them documentation they could present to potential employers – who tend to balk at hiring employees with criminal histories.

"All I want to do is get on with my life," Silvester Smith, 54, told the News & Observer of Raleigh.

The Brunswick County resident was convicted of child molestation in the mid-1980s and sentenced to two life terms. His prosecutor was Easley, who was then the district attorney for Brunswick. Smith was freed last fall, after 20 years in prison, when his "victims" recanted. Smith applied for a pardon of innocence soon after.

Easley didn’t prosecute the other three cases that the Raleigh newspaper detailed Sunday, but they’re just as frustrating, especially since they involve waits of as much as almost two years for a decision from the governor.

Leo D. Waters spent 21 years in prison after being convicted of a rape in Jacksonville. DNA evidence finally cleared him of the crime, and he applied for a pardon in January. Steven Edward Snipes of Sanford spent five years in prison on an armed robbery conviction before the prosecutor who put him in prison became convinced of his innocence and got him out. Waters applied for a pardon in April 2004.

Terence Levonne Garner spent nearly five years in prison after being unjustly convicted of attempted murder in Johnston County. He applied for a pardon in September 2003.

The cases of these four underscore some of the considerable flaws in this state’s criminal-justice system. Several police officers, prosecutors and judges from around the state are working to correct those flaws. Easley, who could contribute much to that task, has yet to join them. Granting these pardons would be a good starting point.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066